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Tips on how to conquer the chaos and get organized with Kerry Thomas 

  • To conquer the chaos its all about the flow. You want to walk into your office or sit down at your desk, and it’s all about the information flow.
  • I define “productive environment” as being able to accomplish your work and enjoy your life. They’re both equally important.
  • I’m giving them permission to work with their strengths instead of fight against their strengths.
  • There are only three choices you can make about any piece of information. Ask yourself “File, act, toss?” So, the acronym is FAT, it’s not pretty, but it’s easy to remember.
  • I have a lot of people ask “Should I use a digital calendar, should I use a paper calendar, day timer type of thing?” And the answer is it doesn’t really matter. It’s not what you should do, but what will you use?
  • One of the elements that you need to have nearby, very close to you are a trashcan, recycling, and shredding. Within arms reach.

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[just click to tweet]


To conquer chaos and get organized it’s all about the flow. You want to walk into your office or sit down at your desk, and it’s all about the information flow.

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Doug: Well, welcome back listeners, to another episode of Real Marketing Real Fast. Today, we’re going to talk about conquering the chaos in our lives. Your life, my life, and just the way that we’re working in our business as entrepreneurs, business owners, and marketing types. My guest today is going to share a really interesting story. So, if you’re interested in learning how she helped a client uncover $2500 in cheques, $800 in cash and a $250 gift certificate in less than four hours, I suggest that you tune in.

So my guest today I met at an event put on by a friend of mine, Justin Schenck, at Growth Now Movement in Reading, Pennsylvania, and that’s Kerry Thomas. Now, Kerry is the owner of Conquer Chaos. She attended the University of Florida where she received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Special Education, and she taught that for eight years before a career change brought her to professional organizing, and her business was launched in 2007.

In 2014, she completed a rigorous training program, became a certified Productive Environmental Specialist. So, I don’t want you to think “Oh, wow, that’s a lot of information.” What I want you to think about is how can you find the time, find margin to do the things that you like to do, be more productive, have less waste, and increase your sales and marketing and not miss opportunities, by the tips that she’s going to share. So, Kerry’s educational background has given her a very unique perspective on how different learning styles impact organization, time management, and productivity.

So, what she does is she helps her clients to create and maintain systems that address their individual issues. So, it’s not a one size fits all. She’s very passionate about helping her clients streamline and optimize and organize their environments, both professionally and personally, for productivity and peace of mind.

So Kerry has spoken and taught workshops at companies such as Hewlett-Packard, North Virginia Birth Services, Long & Foster, American Disposal and numerous others. But she really had the honor of speaking at a TedX talk and 600,000 people have downloaded and watched her video.

Kerry implements the same systems that she uses with her clients in her own workspace to keep her busy schedule flowing, so this gives her time to do things, her favorite things, such as spend time with her family, hiking, reading and watching the Florida Gators.

So, with that really long, hopefully, informative introduction, I’d like to welcome Kerry Thomas to the Real Marketing Real Fast podcast today.

Well hey Kerry, welcome to the Real Marketing Real Fast podcast today.

Kerry: Hi, thank you for having me.

Doug: So excited to connect with you. We connected on social, I’ve been following your posts and looking at your content thinking “Man, this stuff is really, really cool,” and I remember just taking a screenshot and saying “I need to follow up with this person and reach out to see if they would be a guest on our podcast.” So, I’m glad you accepted my invitation.

Kerry: Of course.

Doug: So, just before we got recording I asked you a question, and I think what I’ll do is just re-ask the question, and that is what is your superpower? Because lots of times people go “Oh, I don’t know what my superpower is,” but you clearly know what you do to help people. So, why don’t you share that with our audience?

Kerry: I do. So, I work mainly with people who are very overwhelmed, overwhelmed in their office environment or their home office environment. And my superpower is being able to assess quickly and break things down into the easiest steps and the smallest parts, and I think a lot of that has to do with my background. My background is in special education, and I had students that were very capable but they needed things made into a more simplistic form. And so, I’ve carried that over into my work with my clients where I can look at all the chaos they have going on and I can easily break it down. “Okay, this is what you need to do,” step one, step two, step three.

Doug: Well, that sounds amazing. You’re a little bit too far away to do that for me, but there are some days I’m just overwhelmed, and I’m looking at everything going “Okay, where do I start?”

Kerry: Nobody’s too far away. I work virtually, I actually have clients in Japan and Ireland and all over.

Doug: Well, I have been in your fine state. I was down in Lynchburg, Virginia working on a tech project. So, Ericsson was closing down their tech division there and so I was retained to go recruit a bunch of these guys and set them up in a new company.

Kerry: Nice.

Doug: Very beautiful area.

Kerry: That’s a pretty area, very pretty area.

Doug: So, where do you normally start with people? So, someone at some point reaches out to you and says “Help.” So, you’ve got to the point, you’re a business owner or you’re working in a company, and you just feel like “I can’t manage everything that’s going on.” Is that typically what causes people to reach out and call you?

Kerry: It is. I’ve had a lot of people who get very frustrated because they know they’re wasting more time in their day than they need to be, whether it’s looking for things or managing email, that type of thing. I’ve also had people reach out because they’ve lost money. I had a client who reached out to me and said “Enough is enough,” because she missed out on a speaking engagement for a very large fee because she didn’t turn the form in on time. And so…

Doug: Wow.

Kerry: Yeah. It was painful. So, we set up some systems for her so she could keep track of her to-dos. But basically, if someone comes to me, whatever the reason is that they’re feeling overwhelmed in their life and in their office, the first thing I do is I have a scorecard. It asks questions, everything from about the physical space, are you comfortable with the amount of time you spend on email? Can someone else come to your office and find what they need? How would you feel if you were audited? All those types of things, that scorecard.

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[just click to tweet]


To conquer chaos and get organized it’s all about the flow. You want to walk into your office or sit down at your desk, and it’s all about the information flow.

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Doug: Now, that would cause a lot of stress, nobody wants to be audited.

Kerry: No, no, no, no. So, I start with that and that gives us a score. I’ll share my website at the end, that scorecard is actually in a digital form on my website, and anybody can take that. You don’t have to be a client, anybody can do that.

Doug: Okay. Can I take it anonymously so you won’t know that it was me?

Kerry: You can. I don’t like that, I never like when I get the anonymous ones but you can. Feel free.

So, that’s step one, I have them do a scorecard. Because of my background and because I understand that very often the reason people feel that they can’t get organized, is because they’re trying something that tells them they should do. And because of my background, I understand a lot about how the brain works and different learning styles and ADD and ADHD. And so, the second thing that I have clients do is a learning style assessment, and I think that really differentiates me from other people who work in office organization because that’s not a common thing. But it’s very important to understand because there are definite ways to set up your environment based on your learning style.

So that’s step two, and then step three is, I have a five-step process that I lead my clients through. And step one is to state your vision. So, we talk about where they are now, where they want to go, what they want to accomplish. And during that process is where I hear a lot about where the gaps are.

Doug: Right, so they’re going “Here’s my score and this is my vision,” you’re going “There’s a bunch of stuff that’s missing in between.”

Kerry: Mm-hmm (affirmative), right.

Doug: Well that’s really cool. And one of the reasons I thought this would be a great topic for our listeners is it doesn’t matter what you’re doing in business, whether you’re working for somebody else, it’s your own business. These days, where people seem to be working sometimes crazy hours, and the movement away from a 40 hour work week, I think that’s the reality we should be doing, they just can’t do that because there’s too much other stuff going on. I think if you can get organized and productive you can produce more in less time. We talked about Chuck Balsamo as an example, and that’s one of the things I know he coaches his clients on, is “I want you to only work four days a week.”

Kerry: Yes.

Doug: And they’re going “But I’m overwhelmed right now,” he says “Yeah? Well, you’re going to need to figure out how to do it in four days instead of five days.”

Kerry: Yep. People, sadly… I mean, do this as an experiment. Go out and just ask 10 people today “Oh, how are you doing?” And at least nine of them are going to say “Oh, I’m so busy.”

Doug: Yep.

Kerry: It’s just become our standard answer, and we wear it like a badge of honor, and it’s really not.

Doug: Absolutely, yep. “I’m working so many hours lately,” well, why are you doing that?

Kerry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug: Yep. And I can’t speak for the women, but I can obviously speak for a lot of the men who think it’s an ego thing. It’s like “Yeah, look at me, I’m grinding 60 hours a week.” I’m going “So, when’s the last time you went on a date with your wife?”

Kerry: Right.

Doug: “Oh, I’d like to but I’m really busy.” It’s like “Hmmm…” So, I think obviously organization affects your entire life, and in my personal life the things that have made a difference for me is it’s given me more time with my family, but more importantly, it’s given me more time with my health. I mean, the other question you’d ask people is “What are you doing for your long-term health and wellness?” “Oh, I’d love to…” fill in the blank. “Go to the gym,” “I’d love to go for a run,” “I’d love to go for,” whatever. “I just don’t have time.”

Kerry: It’s so true, yeah. I mean, we talk about being productive, and the long title of my certification, which is a mouthful and I very rarely say, is that I’m a certified Productive Environment Specialist. But what does that mean? And we define productive environment as being able to accomplish our work and enjoy your life. They’re both equally important.

Doug: Oh, no, you’ve got to enjoy it too? Wow, that’s amazing.

Kerry: Mm-hmm (affirmative), exactly. What a novel idea.

Doug: Well, what’s been really funny is, whether you’re a fan of Gary Vaynerchuk’s or not, is his move to do what makes you happy.

Kerry: Yes.

Doug: So, for a long time it was about grind, grind, grind. And he’s going “Well if you’re going to do that, why don’t you find something that makes you happy?” And I, quite frankly, don’t understand why people work in things that they do that they don’t enjoy, but, yeah, that makes a lot of sense, that your environment supports you and you feel good about wherever it is you show up for work.

Kerry: Right.

Doug: So, when you start working with somebody, how long does it normally take before they actually catch their breath, they can breathe, that stress, that tight chest goes away?

Kerry: Well, usually, most people feel it in our very first session.

Doug: Okay.

Kerry: And a lot of it is I’m giving them permission to work with their strengths instead of fight against their strengths. And because I’ve worked with so many people and so many different types of offices and so many different settings, I almost feel guilty sometimes because the suggestions that I can offer seem simple sometimes, but they make such a huge, huge difference to people. So I think, even if there’s a lot of work to be done and they need improvement in many different areas, many different systems, I would say the vast majority of my clients feel really, right away, the first session.

Doug: And I think that makes sense. Knowing that I’ve got a professional that’s going to help me, I would just be like “Okay, I’m not alone, let’s start with that. We don’t have an answer yet, but I’m not alone, someone’s going to come alongside and help me work through this.”

Kerry: Right. One of the simple things that I teach that gives people a lot of freedom right away is I teach that there are only three choices you can make about any piece of information. Whether that’s paper all over the top of your desk or in boxes under your desk or wherever it’s hiding, or email and digital things. There are only there choices. People look at me and cock their heads to the side, but every piece of information can be separated and gone through by asking yourself “File, act, toss?” So, the acronym is FAT, it’s not pretty, but it’s easy to remember.

And so, let’s say you have a stack of paper and you pick it up. So, those are the only three choices. And file would be things you want to save, you don’t need right away but you also don’t want to get rid of it. And I teach people the different types of files. And then the second one is act, and so those are your to-dos. “I have to pay this bill,” “I have to call this person back,” that type of thing. And the rest of it is toss, it’s trash or recycling.

And then, it works the same way with email. Is it file? Am I going to put it in a folder because I might need it later? Am I going to act on it, forward it, respond? Or am I going to delete it? And so, I teach that. That’s one of the very first things I teach, and I think that’s one of the reasons that people feel relief right away, because no matter what their top five problems are, so to speak, that system helps people cut through a lot of information and a lot of backlog of clutter really quickly. So, helpful.

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To conquer chaos and get organized it’s all about the flow. You want to walk into your office or sit down at your desk, and it’s all about the information flow.

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Doug: That makes sense. And I’m assuming, maybe I’m not assuming incorrectly, is that part of the act may be to actually delegate it.

Kerry: Yes, yeah. Like I said, with email, it might be to forward, or yes, it could be hand off to your assistant or whatever it is. But yes. Act is just anything that you’re not going to throw it away, you’re not going to save it for later, it needs something done with it. It needs an action done with it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you.

Doug: Right, that makes sense. Yep, that’s really cool. These days, from what I see in talking to entrepreneurs and business owners, is that people are overwhelmed in so many areas of their life. So, as the boomers now, we’re supporting our growing kids and we’re looking after our parents. So, you’ve got the home front, and then you’ve got the stress and the marketplace, and how the world’s changing and technology’s changing, and the workforce is all dispersed. And yeah, so people are just totally overwhelmed.

Kerry: They are. And people think, “Okay, I have clutter,” and people think of it as the physical clutter, the stuff that’s in your office, it’s in your closets. And then, very often people can wrap their brain around digital clutter, especially now because, I think it was 1975 it was first put out there that we were going to have these paperless offices and paperless lives.

Doug: That’s funny.

Kerry: I know. And, all we’ve managed to do is make a bigger, faster, but hidden mess.

Doug: Yep, that’s right.

Kerry: I do a lot of screen share with people, with clients, who, [inaudible 00:14:30] client, and just get the naming conventions and the files and things under control. So, a lot of people now understand digital clutter, but we also have noise clutter. Not just necessarily if you live next to an airport, but notifications and dinging. Just because it dings or buzzes or rings doesn’t mean you have to answer it or answer it right away.

And then we also have emotional clutter, like negative patterns that we’ve developed, and we have mental clutter. Expectations put upon us, or our endless to-do list. The things that are keeping you awake at three in the morning.

Doug: Right.

Kerry: And so, the more people understand that clutter is not just their stuff but it’s anything that’s clogging their life and keeping them from living the life they want to lead, we can but through that in every area.

Doug: Well, one of the other things that I think, in terms of clutter, and I guess maybe a better description of it is noise, is all the stuff that’s running through your head, as you said.

Kerry: Yep.

Doug: So I did learn, and one of the things that have been very helpful for me, and we rolled out and suggested to all our staff, is you need to get a trusted way to record stuff that you want to remember or do later so you can get it out of your mind.

Kerry: Right.

Doug: If you’re working in a creative position or you’re in a thinking position where you need to be beyond, what you don’t need is “Hey, Johnny’s got a soccer practice tomorrow, and Sam’s got a dance recital.” You’ve got all these things running through your mind. So like you said, get organized, and then free up your brain to do what you’d like to do with it, and that’s more productive, more creative at your work, so then you’re 100% at work, or hopefully 100% at work, and then when you’re at home, all your work stuff is organized so you can be with your family and be 100% at home.

Kerry: Yeah. And I have a lot of people ask me my advice, like “Should I use a digital calendar, should I use a paper calendar, day timer type of thing?” And the answer is it doesn’t really matter. It’s not what you should do, but it’s what you will do. What will you use? The only advice that I give people is you need one. You need one system, and you need to stick with it, and then you can reevaluate later. But I’ve seen so many people with iCalendar and a Google Calendar and a wall calendar. And so, it’s not that any of those are bad, it’s that you don’t know where to look.

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To conquer chaos and get organized it’s all about the flow. You want to walk into your office or sit down at your desk, and it’s all about the information flow.

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Doug: Yep, that’s so true. Years ago we started, with the kids, when they were super busy and involved in, seemed like 100 activities, we actually set up a Google Calendar, a family calendar, so we could get everything organized, and that’s when I learned the leverage of the online calendar. If you have a family calendar, well, it used to be Outlook, and then we moved from Outlook to Google. So, yeah, we have a Google Calendar, and our kids, all their activities are in there and everybody can add stuff. And so, we can, at a glance, see where everybody is and what all our commitments are.

And it made life really simple, but it seemed a little bit over the top. Some people would be “How could you schedule…?” It’s like, “You know what? We’ve got three kids going three different directions, there’s two of us. We need to figure it out.”

Kerry: The people that use that and use it well really like it, and there are also some apps that you can use that do the same thing. But, an interesting story. So, I’m coaching a high schooler, a teenage girl about how to get organized, and her life management, and she has been diagnosed with ADHD. And her parents thought that they were doing a really good thing as far as doing a family Google Calendar, and her activities and her part-time job and everything. And when I sat down, my first consultation with her, she just admitted, she said “I don’t like using apps. I don’t like looking at the calendar on my phone.” And it was so interesting for someone that age group to say “No, I just want a good old-fashioned paper calendar.” But she had been afraid to mention it to her parents because, of course, they’re always accusing her of being attached to her phone, but that was obviously for different reasons than time management.

Doug: Right, and I guess that’s where looking at their learning style…

Kerry: Exactly.

Doug: We’ve gone through, at work and with various clients and even hiring, we’ve had staff go through a personality style indicator so we can get an idea of what their personality and style is. So, how do they react under stress, and how do they like to be… So, as you said, it’s about finding what works for you. So, what works for me works for me, but it may not work for you, so I’m not going to impose that on you.

Kerry: Right.

Doug: Totally makes sense.

Kerry: Right. The biggest one with people is, I mean, everybody has some form of action file, whether that’s current projects, client files, papers that you use on a regular basis. So, everybody has some form of action file that they need. And if things are going to get really messy in my clients’ lives, that’s usually where it is. “I can’t find the phone numbers for this,” “I can’t find this.” But that’s also the most fun area for me because you can have the most flexibility. For example, I say action file, but it doesn’t have to be a file. I have some clients that use binders and keep each different project in a different binder. Some use clear envelopes, and you can color-code those.

The coolest one is I had a client, she was an event planner. And we set up her office, she had her files, I did my follow-up and she said: “No, I hate it.” I’m like “Okay, what do you hate?” She said, “I’m not a file person.” She said “I put these in the drawer and I put it away, and out of sight, out of mind. I hate it.” And so I said “Okay.” And so, we brought in one of those StepUp files that can sit on the corner of your desk, and I said “Okay, well now they’re more visible,” and next check-up, “Nope, still hate it.”

And so, we quickly figured out that files just didn’t work for her. So, what we did, it was really neat, is she took each of her events, each of her clients, and she put them on a clipboard. And she had someone in her office, we put a 2×4 and they painted it, and they put nails, and then each client had a clipboard. She could grab it, she could go, she could add, she could take away. She knew exactly where it went when she came back to her desk. And then, when those clients were no longer active, then she’d put it in a file and put it away. That’s what worked for her, but she wasn’t afraid to say “No, I hate this, I can’t do this file.” But action files are really fun because you can come up with a lot of creative ways.

Doug: Yeah, that’s really neat. I think in my business, and I know certainly with some of my clients, the overwhelm also, in addition to all the stuff that we’ve talked about, really comes from new information.

Kerry: Yes.

Doug: “I was at a seminar, I was at an event and I heard five great speakers, and this guy said ‘Hey, buy this book,’ and this person’s using new technology,” so you get back and you’ve got dozens of new ideas. You’ve maybe subscribed to some email lists, you’re following more people on social. So, you’re really increasing the noise level and the volume of information that comes to you every day.

Kerry: Yes. It’s hard. I fall into that trap as well, and when I find myself, if I sit down and I open my email, and I have all these great ideas that come from different lists or different teachers, trainers I’ve subscribed to. And when I open it up and my whole body sinks, like “Ugh,” then I know it’s time to either unsubscribe or put some in a folder to read later. It just, it is, it’s too much.

Doug: And that’s what I’ve done for my email, is I have a read later folder, and what I try to do is because I’ve now figured out where I’m most productive in terms of my time of day and energy. And so, I will move the read later file, and that’s what I’ll do after three o’clock. So, after three o’clock is my brain starting to turn to mush, and I can’t produce productive stuff for a client. It’s like, “Okay, now I’ll catch up on my reading.”

Kerry: That’s really good.

Doug: And I can go through. But yeah, so, I take that. Or, if I need to clean up my desk. I can do that late in the day. So, I’m still doing something that it’s productive, but it’s not high-value work.

Kerry: Right. And it’s very important to figure that out, your productive times. I’ve been known, when I have big projects or big deadlines coming up, my brain gets clogged. I’ve been known to just head to bed at a ridiculously early hour and then get back up at four. Because at four, I can plow through it with such clarity, but I know other people get cold sweat thinking about that. But you do have to figure out what works for you.

One thing, when you said you can put some things in a folder to read later. One thing that works for my clients also… So, let’s say you do attend like you said, a workshop or a convention or something, and you come back and you have a lot of good ideas. One thing to do is to transfer just the key points that you want to remember, or maybe you just want to remember the person’s name and their website, or you just want to remember the name of a new product to check out later. You can use something like Evernote, or I use, because it’s very simple for me and a lot of my clients like, it’s a cloud-based site called WorkFlowy. Are you familiar with that?

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[just click to tweet]


To conquer chaos and get organized it’s all about the flow. You want to walk into your office or sit down at your desk, and it’s all about the information flow.

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Doug: Yeah, I am. I introduced that to my wife and my daughters. They primarily use it for shopping now.

Kerry: Yeah, yeah. One of my tabs on WorkFlowy is gift ideas. So, what you can do, and I like those too because they’re the most searchable. I have different tabs, and you can do this in whichever program you want, but I have different tabs for future social media ideas or products I want to try, things like that. Because I used to be a very heavy paper person. I have a lot of notebooks with paper, and binders with paper, and little slips of paper everywhere. And using WorkFlowy has really helped me get a lot of my paper clutter. I like using one of those programs, whichever one you use, that’s searchable because then you don’t have to worry about losing it into the black hole of your computer somewhere.

Doug: Yeah, or your naming sequence. So yeah, I introduced it to our family when I first found the tool, I don’t know, three, four, five years ago. And it was just my youngest daughter that likes it because she loves lists and my wife. And so, they work well together in that, I’ve stopped using it just for other reasons, but they still love it and still use it today. 

Now one of the hacks, I don’t know whether it’s a big deal, but in terms of saving stuff, one of the things I see is, I get all this stuff. All this stuff comes across my desk, or I’m on social media, or on your Twitter account for example, and I see something you posted. I go “That’s really cool,’ so I click on it. Think, “Okay, I don’t have time to read that now, I want to read it later.” So, what I found is really simple for me is using my iPhone, which is when you can forward that article.

What I do is I send it to Slack. So, I’ve set up a channel on my Slack called Reading. And so, it’s really easy because I can do that with any piece of digital content and just drop it into Slack. And then when I’m at my desk, or wherever, I have my laptop later, and I pop it up, I’ve got the reading files. So I can read the stuff I want, delete the stuff that I don’t want to follow up and then take, like you said, do an action item. “Hey, I want to have a conversation with this company.” But I just found that Slack has been the easiest way to share it because what I used to do is put it in Evernote, which was a multi-step process and a bit slow, or I would email it, which just added to my email inbox, which I clearly didn’t need.

Kerry: Right. Well, it’s funny, you and I are familiar with these, so we’re talking easily about these different things, Slack and WorkFlowy. And what happens, I talked about my superpower in the beginning.

Doug: Yes, yep.

Kerry: And what happens is, I can almost feel some of the listeners like “Oh, what is that? What does that do, and which ones should I have?” And that’s what happens with my clients. They think they need to have the latest, greatest thing, and well, “Sarah said this,” and “Joe said this,” and that’s where I come in. I say “Okay, what are your goals? What do you need to accomplish on a daily basis? What tools are you already using, what do you like, what do you hate?” And then we go from there and make a plan.

Because people think that they have to do it a certain way, and you just don’t.

Doug: Yeah, as you said, find what works for you. I’m using a 200-page single notebook as we’re talking and I keep notes. So, I keep handwritten notes of the highlights of my day. So, it’s less about journaling and it’s more about, here’s your five-step process, how you only have to make three choices, the FAT, file, act, toss. So, even with all the technology, I still like a pen and paper.

Kerry: Right.

Doug: So, that’s one of the styles I enjoy.

Is there a story of a client, you can name them or not name them, up to you, that you helped them with a major “A-ha” and breakthrough, and at the end of the day they had either less stress, made more money, found their ideal mate, or whatever the outcome was that they wanted, that was their vision?

Kerry: Yeah. I haven’t had anyone tell me that that’s their vision yet. That would be an interesting one. “Find the perfect person.” Gosh, I have so many. I’ll say a couple of quick little snippets of one. So, back when I used to do a lot more residential, back before 2014 when I got my additional certification, I did a lot more residential organizing. And I had a client who hadn’t slept in her bed in two to three years because it was just piled with stuff. And so, when I was able to have her reclaim her own space and her bedroom, that was huge. I will never forget that one.

My most recent business client, works for an insurance company, and she has an office but she also works from home a great deal. And so, she had a huge backlog of paper, so we went through that really really fast. I’ve been called a paper ninja before, which I love. I can go through a lot of paper really quickly. So, we did that. But when I mentioned the simple things often make the biggest difference, she was actually the person I had in mind.

So, one of the things and this sounds so silly, but I always talk about the magic six, as far as the six things you need in your office. And one of the elements of the magic six is you need to have nearby, very close to you, trashcan, recycling, and shredding. Within arms reach. And you think “Okay Kerry, yeah, great, I’m interviewing you for you to say you need to have a trashcan.” But you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t have that right nearby, and just the stress it causes them during their workday. And it’s so silly. So, we had an extra bin leftover from sorting and I put it under her desk, and she has a lot to shred. And I said, “Well, just stick your shredding right there as you go.” And it was so simple, and she kept laughing at herself. She’s like “Why is this my favorite thing that we’ve done today?”

But the other thing we did for her was I set her up with, it’s basically a modern version of a tickler system. Mine that I use and sell is called a swift file. But basically, there’s a folder for each month, and then a folder for each day, 1 through 31. Her business is very paper-centric, she couldn’t do a lot digitally, there were a lot of papers she had to save. And she had to remember to do them or pay them or take action on them on certain days. So, setting her up with that tickler system where she had a folder and she could drop it in, “Okay, I need to do this on the 14th, I need to do this next Wednesday,” and she could drop it. She was a really quick learner, and she just embraced that system immediately and started, every morning, first thing, taking out the folder. “Okay, these are my to-dos for the day.” And as I said, she really embraced it, and she said… People say these things and it sounds silly, but she said it was life-changing for her.

The other thing that she said was, and we set up files, she had never had a very good searchable file system. And so, I helped her with that. And then, one thing that we adapted for her that I don’t normally do is, we had a box of files that sat, she had a very large table that she could use as a desk. And those were her files that would go back and forth between her home office and her business office, and she just never had a place to put them. And so, she was losing things. We found, gosh, going through her office, we found, I think the grand total was $400 in cash and about $2200 in cheques.

Doug: Wow.

Kerry: And some of the cheques had expired, but she was going to try to go back and see if she could still cash them. And then we found, I think it was a $250 gift card to a really nice restaurant. And so, she had forgotten she had that. But before I even left, I think I had to go do something or go use the restroom or whatever it was, and I came back in and she said: “Guess what?” She said “I just sorted a whole stack of paper,” because like I said, there’s always more, people always find more. She said “I just sorted a whole stack of paper. I filed some, I threw some out, knew where it all went.” And she said, “That literally has never happened in my entire life.”

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[just click to tweet]


To conquer chaos and get organized it’s all about the flow. You want to walk into your office or sit down at your desk, and it’s all about the information flow.

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Doug: That’s amazing.

Kerry: I know. And I only worked with her four hours, and I went back for a follow-up, and we ended up working on something else because she had completely integrated everything and everything was working. She didn’t even need a follow-up.

Doug: Well, I like what you’re saying because you’re trying to adapt to where people are at, their environment, their style, and not force-feeding… It’d be like me saying “Hey, you should eat liver because it’s good for you,” my kids aren’t going to eat liver. So, for other people who are going “I’m not using Evernote, I hate it,” or “I’m not using technology, I hate it.” So, as you said, find what works for you, but just be consistent.

Kerry: Mm-hmm (affirmative), exactly.

Doug: And use it.

Kerry: It’s all about the flow. You want to walk into your office or sit down at your desk, and it’s all about the information flow. I tell people “You need an inbox.” Yes, that sounds old-fashioned, but where do you put your mail that hasn’t been sorted yet? Where do you put things you haven’t looked at yet? You need these simple tools so that when you sit down, “Okay, this is what I do first, this is where things get…” You just, it’s all about the flow.

Doug: And, for the creative people that are looking at all these shiny new objects and all these new marketing tips that come out, I just keep a book, an idea book.

Kerry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doug: But it’s a place that you can put all that stuff. So, that’s my inbox for, like you said, you’ve got new ideas, they go over there.

Kerry: Yep, I do. And I look at them from time to time and think… You know what else I have on there, and I keep on WorkFlowy, is speech ideas, or simple tips for clients. And so, sometimes if I know I’m going to give a spotlight or I’m going to be interviewed or something, I will just quickly read through those tips and it jogs my mind. So, you could do that with anything, really.

Doug: So, what are you most excited about in the next six to 12 months, in your business, your industry, and how things are changing?

Kerry: Oh, goodness. Okay, so for me personally, I have to back up a little bit to answer this. But, what I do with people and their offices and their companies, I’m very good at it, and I’m very good at what systems, analyzing what systems people need, helping them implement. But what happened is my business took an unexpected turn, I guess most turns are unexpected. In 2017 I did a Ted Talk, and my Ted Talk was on what I hinted at earlier, how clutter is not just stuff, how we have emotional clutter and spiritual clutter. And so, it was a bucket list item, I was very excited to do it. I thought it would go on YouTube and my mom would watch it and that would be the end of the story.

And what happened is it was not just my mom. I think I have 600,000 views or something like that now. And people started contacting me, and they were saying “I really resonated with my story, I think you would understand me, I think you wouldn’t be judgemental,” et cetera, et cetera. And so, they asked me if I would do virtual coaching. And I said “Well, I’m not a life coach, I don’t play one on TV,” that type of thing. But people said “Well, I have this clutter,” “I have this,” or “I have these papers and I don’t know what to do.” And so I took on some virtual clients, and those people have done so well. And they’ve been asking for more, like “Can I have an accountability partner?” “Do you have more training that I could watch online?” That type of thing. And so, it’s actually been my clients pushing me.

And so, finally, in January, I am launching an online group coaching program.

Doug: Oh, congratulations. Well, good for you on the Ted Talk, and congratulations on launching your first online coaching.

Kerry: Thanks, yeah. And like I said, it wasn’t my idea, I was pushed by my own clients which is pretty cool.

Doug: Well, and the point I would emphasize there is that I think as business owners, or even if you’re working, an employee, we get these opportunities that come up in our life. And what I found, I speak for myself, is if I’m not organized, I can miss the opportunity. Or if I’m overwhelmed, I can’t see how I can make that opportunity work. So if you were already working 50, 60 hours a week, and it was just in chaos, and your clients are pushing you to say “Hey, I want you to go online,” you’re thinking “I can’t go online, I’m doing this, and I have to build a website, and I have to do social media, and I have to do video, and I have to,” blah blah blah, and the list goes on. So, my point to listeners is, how many opportunities are you missing or turning away because you’re overwhelmed and in chaos in some part or all parts of your life? So, that has a direct effect on your bottom line, your happiness, and your profitability of your company.

Kerry: Yes. So true, yep.

Doug: So, what’s some of the bad advice you hear? So, if you’re out at a cocktail party and you’re having a glass of white wine, and you’re walking around chatting to some folks there, and you overhear a conversation around people being productive or time-management or organization. I’m not asking you to name… What’s the bad advice you hear and you just want to go over there and go “Nope, excuse me, I have to interrupt this conversation”?

Kerry: Yes. And I won’t name people, but I do get a lot of dropouts from some gurus people try to follow and they’re like “Ahhh, I can’t do it.”

So, I think the first one is just what we’ve been saying all along. It’s anybody who’s trying to fit themselves into someone else’s program that doesn’t really work for them. But a big one is having to, when you set up a filing system, I always hear people say “Oh, well you have to have a category for this,” and “You have to have this,” and “It needs to be color-coded,” or “It needs to be alphabetized.”

First of all, an alphabetized filing system is never going to work because what happens when you have to put in another word? You’re going to get thrown off. So, mine is pretty different in how I do it, and I do use a searchable one where you can use keywords. So, that’s one that drives me crazy, when I hear people talking about what you “must” have for your filing system.

I think another one is, like I mentioned earlier with the calendar, “Well, you have to do this,” and “You have to sync it with this.” Like you said, some people still like paper, and it’s not going to go away and that’s okay. So, I think when people look down their nose at anyone who uses paper still, that one grates on me.

I think another one is just when people talk about, in an office setting, how everything is someone else’s job. I think everybody needs to take accountability for what they need to keep, in what form they need to keep it, for how long they need to keep it. You can’t just dump everything on another employee. I’ve heard that recently, that’s why that’s sticking out to me.

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[just click to tweet]


To conquer chaos and get organized it’s all about the flow. You want to walk into your office or sit down at your desk, and it’s all about the information flow.

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Doug: Yep, I’ve heard some of those well, I’ve had the lectures about “Hey, you need color-coded files,” “You need this”, “You need that,” and “It should be alphabetized.” It’s like, sure, so I file our interview under Kerry Thomas and then I want to go look for it, and I’m thinking “What was her name? It was Conquer the Chaos. Okay, I’ll look under C, it’s not there. Maybe it’s under P for “podcast.” Yeah, so. Well, really cool. So, two last questions and I’ll let you get back to helping people be more productive.

One is, who’s one guest that you think I absolutely have to have on my podcast?

Kerry: Well, I am a little biased, but I personally think you need to have my business coach, Darnyelle Jervey Harmon. She is amazing at what she does. She’s amazing at marketing, she’s amazing at quick, to-the-point business makeovers. She’s a dynamo, and she’s fabulous.

Doug: Well, if you would be willing to make an introduction that would be awesome, and I’ll reach out to her, and that would be great.

Kerry: Yes, yes.

Doug: And then, the most important thing. So, for people who are going “Hey, this sounds really good,” so, aside from checking you out and looking at your Ted Talk, or listening to your Ted Talk, where do you want people to reach out and connect with you, Kerry?

Kerry: Okay, so, two ways. If they look at my website, which is ctc, which stands for Conquer the Chaos, ctcorganizing.com. As I said, there’s the scorecard on there, and there’s actually a link to the Ted Talk on there, so that’s a good place to start. And then, there are all the icons where they can choose where to follow on social media. But I would also like to offer an office transformation blueprint, which has the things we’ve been talking about on it. It has the file act toss, it has the magic six, everything you need to include in your office. It also has the questions you need to ask yourself to decide if you need to throw something away or not. And so, I’d like to offer that to people. So, I would like to say, if they text the word “clarity” to 878-CLUTTER, which is 258-8837, so the word “clarity” to 878-CLUTTER, and I will get them that blueprint. If you’re a self-starter and you don’t need that much help then you can take that and run with it and it will be invaluable. And if you do need more help, then, of course, we can talk.

Doug: Well yeah, and if people are concerned having listened to our conversation today, reflecting back on it, they can get that blueprint as a start, and when they find $2500 in cheques, $800 in cash and a few dinner gift certificates, they can phone you because now they’ve found budget to have somebody take them to the next level.

Kerry: Exactly, it’s removed that obstacle, hasn’t it?

Doug: Absolutely. So, I just want to say thanks very much for taking the time today and just sharing with us and with my audience some really helpful tips, techniques and some ideas around how to get organized and being more productive.

Kerry: Yes, thank you for having me.

Doug: So there you go listeners, there’s another episode of Real Marketing Real Fast. And today we didn’t talk about marketing, but if you don’t have time in your day and you can’t find the contracts, or you can’t find the marketing plan that you’re supposed to be working on because it’s buried someplace or misfiled, you can understand why having your office organized and being productive would be super helpful to finding time for marketing or finding time for your family, or making time to get healthy.

So, I just want to say thanks again to Kerry Thomas for being my guest, and I welcome you guys, if you have any questions, reach out to Kerry. She’s left her information for text, we’ll make sure that’s in the show notes. So, if you are driving, don’t text while you’re driving, but head over to the website and do that.

So, we look forward to serving you on our next episode.

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[just click to tweet]


To conquer chaos and get organized it’s all about the flow. You want to walk into your office or sit down at your desk, and it’s all about the information flow.

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Get in touch with Kerry:

  • Special Offer: Text the word “clarity” to 878-CLUTTER, which is 258-8837, so the word “clarity” to 878-CLUTTER to receive Kerry’s Office Transformation Blueprint
  • Website – Conquer the Chaos
  • Kerry on LinkedIn

Find out more about Kerry:

Links to other related podcasts and or blog posts:




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"Innovation isn't just thinking outside the box; it's about setting the box on fire and building something extraordinary from the ashes."

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